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Drinking hot tea may increase risk of oesophageal cancer

Regular consumers of hot tea have a fivefold increased risk of oesophageal cancer if they also smoke and drink

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 06 February 2018

Consuming hot tea is associated with an increased risk for oesophageal cancer in those who also drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, according to a study* published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Oesophageal cancer is increasing in prevalence and has poor survival rates, particularly in less-developed regions and for men. China is among the countries with the highest oesophageal cancer incidence, where tea drinkers, especially men, are more likely to also smoke and drink alcohol.

Researchers for the National Natural Science Foundation of China and National Key Research and Development Program surveyed participants enrolled in the China Kadoorie Biobank (CKB) study, excluding those previously diagnosed with cancer or who reduced their tea drinking, alcohol intake, or cigarette smoking, to determine if high-temperature tea drinking was associated with increased risk for oesophageal cancer.

The researchers followed 456,155 participants aged 30 to 79 for a median follow-up period of 9.2 years.

Over the follow-up period, 1731 cases of oesophageal cancer were documented. High-temperature tea drinking combined with either alcohol consumption or smoking was associated with a greater risk for oesophageal cancer than hot tea drinking alone. Compared with participants who drank tea less than weekly and consumed fewer than 15g of alcohol daily, those who drank burning-hot tea and 15g or more of alcohol daily had the greatest risk for oesophageal cancer (hazard ratio [HR], 5.00 [95% CI, 3.64 to 6.88]).
The hazard ratio for current smokers who drank burning-hot tea daily was 2.03 (CI, 1.55 to 2.67). They found a synergistic association between hot tea drinking with excessive alcohol consumption or smoking and the risk for oesophageal cancer. Participants who drank high-temperature tea, consumed alcohol excessively, and smoked had an oesophageal cancer risk more than five times greater than those who had none of those three habits. In the absence of both excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, daily tea drinking was not associated with oesophageal cancer risk.

According to the study authors, these findings suggest that abstaining from hot tea may be beneficial for persons who drink alcohol excessively or smoke.

The hypothesis that drinking very hot beverages may increase the risk of oesophageal cancer is not new, and it was suggested that thermal irritation was a predisposing factor for oesophageal cancer as far back as the 1930s.

However, the association between hot beverages and oesophageal cancer has not been firmly established. An expert panel assembled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2016 classified drinking very hot beverages as a probable (class 2A) rather than a definite (class 1) carcinogen.

*Yu C, Tang H, Guo Y, et al. Effect of Hot Tea Consumption and Its Interactions With Alcohol and Tobacco Use on the Risk for Esophageal Cancer: A Population-Based Cohort Study. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 6 February 2018] doi: 10.7326/M17-2000

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